- Scientist and Philosopher hugely influential in the History and Philosophy of Science
- Known for concept of Scientific Revolutions
Positions Defended - Science based in revolutions of thought, Incommensurability, Subjective nature of individuals in science
Work Discussed - Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice
- Talking about this essay instead of Kuhn's famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (SOSR), might seem questionable since Objectivity, Value Judgment, and Theory Choice (OVJTC) is a corollary work, addressing interpretive misunderstandings of his major work.
-So why are we discussing OVJTC and not SOSR?
Why do you climb K2 when its only the second highest mountain in the world? Because it's there, it's badass, and it still has a lot to offer. (And maybe because that was the only mountain available to you at the moment and you just felt that climbing that one and not the other one).
- We can look at OVJTC as a work that expounds upon mistakes that Kuhn believes others made in interpreting SOSR. Most significantly, the idea that with his notion of scientific revolutions came the idea that science was totally debased and scientists merely practicing "mob psychology". First, though, we must have a quick run through of SOSR.
Kuhn's Revolutionary Ideas
- In SOSR, Kuhn proposed a huge idea about the nature of science - that it wasn't simply a logical progression of scientific facts. Instead, he proposed that science underwent Paradigm Shifts. These paradigm shifts were when ordinary science gave way to a revolutionary idea, that changed the way scientists thought about the world.
- Now this idea of paradigm shift isn't quite as jolting as the reasons Kuhn gave for these paradigm shifts occurring. He claimed they didn't occur purely based on scientific fact. They didn't happen because Einstein was right and Newton was wrong or because Copernicus was right and Ptolemy was wrong. These shifts, or revolutions, happened because specific scientists of the given era made personal choices that supported the revolutionary idea over the earlier paradigm.
Let's find the most trite example we can......ah, Professional Football
For years, teams were lining up and running short and throwing deep. That was how the game was played, in essence you ran short so you could upen up the longer throws. Like scientists in the Newton era, you solved problems according to Newtonian calculus, within the established paradigm. Coaches would come up with new plays to fit this basic scheme.
Then came this guy called Bill Walsh, who thought outside the traditional paradigm and tried to think of other ways to solve the problem. He came up with what's called the West Coast Offense. This employed short, precise passes to the sidelines that spread the field and allowed passing and running lanes deep and up the middle.
(This image should clear it all up). His idea was that the short passes would force a defense to play over greater parts of the field. Passes could happen outside the fat linemen, so they wouldn't get stifled like runs, and this would bring defenders closer to the line of scrimmage, making bigger plays available. Kind of like how Einstein determined that curved space-time would make gravity no longer a mysterious force, creating a new understanding of how to describe the universe.
And just like with Einstein's theories, the West Coast Offense worked GREAT. Soon, in order to compete, you had to be playing some form of that offense, cause it was just the way to win - the way to get things done.
- Now you couldn't say that the West Coast Offense was logically better than previous ones. They all had their advantages and they all worked at different times. Similarly, Einstein's theories shouldn't be considered logically better than Newton's, they just work better nowadays, and people decided to use that paradigm.
This isn't as benign as it might seem. If the progression of science is only based on the personal views of scientists and not on the Truth of the new idea over the earlier one, then many believe science itself is degraded. It's no longer Truth-exposing, but language-evolving. (Pictured is the metaphorical kick in the nuts that some scientists must have felt).
- It goes even deeper, however. Somebody running a West Coast Offense could still run an old-school play. They still had all the parts and the know-how. The only difference was that in the old school systems the play would be called "dive right", the West Coast based systems would call it "X left, Magnum, Z motion, 24 Beamer". These two languages for different systems were incommensurable.
- Kuhn believed that the proponents of the newer ideas were in effect incommensurable with the old schoolers. That is, they could not wholly compare systems with each other because the methodology they were using, the perceptions and observations they were looking for, and the language they were speaking, were so very different.
So we no longer have a linear form of science, progressing in a straight line of information improval, but jumps to different steps, where the thought on the new step isn't better or necessarily truer, just newer and more akin to our purposes today.
- As we shall see, this doesn't wholly degrade science, and it doesn't fall into complete relativism. What OVJTC explains is that subjectivity always comes into play when deciding which theory to go by. Therefore, there is no objective choice such that Einstein should be believed and Newton should be discarded. That is based on individual scientists who make value judgments and theory choices that affect the direction of science as a whole.